Let’s not sugar coat dating because you and I both know it’s not a visit to the candy store. But when you know what to expect, it will help you navigate the process without all the stress and anxiety associated with it.
Dating moves through stages of development just like marriage. I will be mapping the stages of dating for you so it’s easier for you to anticipate the challenges you might encounter.
Stages of Dating Part 1: Initial Meeting/Attraction (first month or two)
Relationships must to start somewhere. Maybe you met over the internet, through friends, in a church or social group, at a party or bar.
During this stage, chemistry, both emotional and physical, take center stage. Oxytocin is released, and you feel like you’re on cloud nine.
It fuels the sexual attraction and attractiveness, you start obsessing with each other, and you feel like you’re falling in love.
You can’t keep your hands of each other!
The emotional side is trying to find out if you have in enough things in common. Do you like the same music, books, foods, etc.
Stages of Dating Part 2 Curiosity, Interest, and Infatuation (Between the 3 to 8 months)
During the second stage, attraction and infatuation are still the most important.
You’re both still very focused on things like physical appearance, body type, interests and personality traits. You’re both putting your best foot forward. Differences can be overlooked or dismissed with thoughts like “not a big deal” or “he’ll change”.
Couples generally do not have much conflict at this stage both are really trying hard to impress the other person. Often, we’re focused on, “What can I do to make this person like me?” instead of, “Is this the right person for me?”.
What is the danger?
That both of you hold back – neither you nor he bring up serious issues that may conflict with each other’s values. Or you ignore the things that irritate you for fear of upsetting the flow.
If you are feeling particularly lonely or anxious to start a relationship, you may convince yourself that your expectations have been too high, that this relationship is “good enough”. And even if the chemistry isn’t there, you keep trying to see if something changes. And you may even decide to settle instead of ending it and moving on.
The real challenge is allowing yourself to be aware and honest about the budding relationship. Pause to reflect and sort through your true feelings, your values, dreams, etc., so you don’t end up compromising.
The key point here is for you not to bite your tongue and keep yourself from having important conversations because you’re fearful of rocking the boat. You’ve got to know what are your non-negotiable.
This stage is all about opening up honestly and being real from the start, so you get a true sense of he is, and he gets a sense of who you really are and what is important to you. This is the only way of knowing whether you are truly compatible.
Chewing with your mouth open, snoring, or leaving the toilet seat open might not be a huge deal for some but if drives you crazy, you might want to think twice.
Towards the end of this stage, and hopefully at other times throughout it, it is not unusual for questions “Where is the relationship headed?”.
Going slowly in making any decisions about a relationship are more likely to be better ones than moving quickly (unless the relationship is clearly not a good fit).
Stages of Dating Part 3: Becoming a Couple (Between 9 and 18 months)
By now the oxytocin levels have dropped. Researchers have found these levels naturally drop in couples somewhere between 9 and 18 months.
This means that things are winding down. Routines are setting in, there’s still chemistry, but less hot and crazy. Hopefully, both parties feel more relaxed with each other and there’s less of a fear of walking-on-eggshells around each other.
You both are now more open about what bothers each other, especially if you’re living together and can’t use distance to calm down your irritations.
Here is where you start noticing consistent behavior patterns – how they manage their money, how do they engage with their family and friends, how responsible are they with their obligations.
During this stage is common to trigger each other’s emotional wounds. Maybe he feels micromanaged because you have a controlling issue. Or you have a fear of abandonment and become increasingly resentful when he must work weekends or meet his friends. Here is where arguments can start to escalate and become destructive.
Often during this time, the relationship is challenged by “real-life” experiences that cause distress and require that you both use many of your skills to maneuver them successfully.
Someone loses their job, there’s a death in the family or maybe there’s a business opportunity that requires a lot of travel or even a geographical move.
This is when the couple is challenged to respond as a team. Circumstances will be testing the strength of the relationship, the trust and each partner’s ability to deal with crises and anxiety.
Finally, this is the time that the couple starts to have serious conversations about the future. Here they talk about priorities. Do they want have children, how many or if none. Whether to focus on careers or whether a job is just a job and they rather raise chickens as a hobby. This is where commit-a-phobia sets in: One partner wants to move forward, the other may say “Slow down, give me more time”.
You’re not living on the clouds anymore and reality has started to set in. You need to put on the granny panties for this. This is called “adulting”, the real test of the relationship.
Are you both on the same page about our values, visions and priorities? Can we support each other in the way we need to be supported while experiencing life? Can we understand and respect our insecurities and sensitivities, and back off when each other needs space, rather than arguing?
In order to grow closer, you must be able to productively have deep conversations without falling in a childish tit-for-tat? Can we solve these problems and reach solutions that are win-win for both of us?
Challenges. That you both are courageous and committed enough to have these difficult conversations rather than sweeping issues under the rug or blowing up in a fit of rage.
The reality is that some couples will move through and some will find that they can’t. They will break up either because it is all too difficult or because they discover that they are truly on different pages.
Stages of Dating Part 4: Moving forward. Commitment or Engagement
By this stage in a relationship, couples should have a good understanding of their partner’s values, life style, and goals, dreams and desires for the future. You know and have a relationship with each other’s family and friends.
There are open and honest conversations as a couple to plan your present and future together. Questions about children, finances, careers, future goals and lifestyle should be discussed deeper. How you handle these differences with each other will be key to the survival of the relationship.
This is the state you use to evaluate the relationship and the ability of both of you to be part of an emotionally intelligent relationship.
It’s been a bit rough at times, perhaps some regrets or resentments have lingered, but the positive experiences overcome the negative.
You both have be honest and learn to be assertive and compassionate with each other. At this point you’re getting ready to enter into a commitment or marriage.
You believe that you’re ready to commit, but in reality you essentially skipped all of Stage 2 and 3. You are still walking on eggshells, constantly accommodating your needs for the other and not speaking up, thinking perhaps that once you are married, living together or more committed that things will magically work themselves out, or the other party will change.
This is where many of you might realize that this won’t work, or it is not what you want.
Challenges. This is the last chance to set everything on the table and be honest. The challenge is once again to have courage to be open and honest with yourself and your partner.
And by being honest with yourself and your partner, you can both successfully move forward